ATLANTA—Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff released a monumental statement on Monday afternoon, confirming wide receiver Julio Jones won't be attending this week's mandatory minicamp, set for Tuesday through Thursday.
"We have been in contact with Julio and his representation. We will not discuss those conversations publicly, except to say we feel they have been productive and constructive. We understand the concerns and thoughts from their perspective. Although not ideal, Julio informed us today he would not be attending minicamp.
"We have much respect for him and what he means to our team, our city and our fans."
There have been loud whispers of Jones (four-year average: 103 catches, 1,579 yards, 6 TDs) being unhappy with his current contract situation ($34 million through 2020), and Dimitroff's words portend that Jones' holdout might carry over into training camp.
Skipping a mandatory minicamp warrants an automatic fine of approximately $84,230 (cumulative three-day total), a $3,800-plus bump from last year's slotted fines.
For what it's worth, this figure would account for less than 1 percent (0.008) of Jones' $10.5 million base salary for 2018. It also represents seven minutes of actual playing time during the regular season.
Last month, at the NFL owners meetings in Buckhead, Falcons owner Arthur Blank expressed supreme optimism Jones would remain a Falcon For Life.
"I love Julio. He loves me. He loves Atlanta. He's going to be here forever," Blank told 11Alive Sports reporter Alex Glaze, during an impromptu and exclusive one-on-one chat.
Regarding Jones' supposed demand for a new or 'updated' contract, Blank kept it simple: "We'll talk to him directly about that, and that's between us and him. We've always treated our players respectively, competitively and done whatever we have to do to make a winning team on the field."
Jones' no-show for last month's Organized Team Activities sparked numerous debates in Atlanta. Various theories were espoused, regarding the Alabama product's true motivation for skipping routine OTA workouts, despite having three years left on a contract extension which reset the receivers' market back in 2015:
a) Was Jones seeking a major adjustment on the current extension (five years, $71.2 million)?
b) Would Jones be angling for a trade leading up to training camp? This would be an extremely rare occurrence.
Excluding the infamous Terrell Owens debacle from 2005, which prompted the Eagles to suspend and then later release their embattled star, the last game-changing receiver to be dealt right before training camp was John Jefferson in 1981—going from the high-octane Chargers to the pass-happy Packers.
c) Or was Jones happy with his contract and the Falcons, but simply coveted a mental and physical break from football?
Well, given the surreal nature of Dimitroff's announcement, just hours before the launch of mandatory minicamp, answer 'C' can be effectively dismissed.
If anything, the Falcons are seemingly headed for a brutal round of negotiations with Jones' handlers in the coming weeks.
Within that context, Jones' dissension may be rooted on two different fronts:
a) The receiver front: For his next deal, Jones likely wants to stay competitive with Houston's DeAndre Hopkins (five years, $81 million ... signed in 2017) and Tampa Bay's Mike Evans (five years, $82.5 million ... signed in 2017), while keeping an eye on Odell Beckham Jr.'s prospective contract extension, which could approach the $90 million mark.
b) The quarterback front: Jones and Matt Ryan may be best friends off the field, but Julio might also loathe having a base salary that's roughly one-third of his quarterback.
Last month, Ryan became the NFL's highest-paid player, to the tune of five years and $150 million ... with a league-record commitment of $100 million in guaranteed money.